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Hide and Seek

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Phil sat at the kitchen table, eating a cup of fruit with one hand and working on SHIELD paperwork with the other. The financial difficulties continued. The diplomatic ones were worse. Phil had intended to eat breakfast with Natasha and Clint. Natasha had gotten called in to deal with the Queen of England, who was in a high temper about SHIELD's treatment of some MI5 agents and refused to speak to Director Fury. Clint just shrugged, curling up in his chair with a bowl of Lucky Charms and the schematics for some new arrowheads.

Steve and Bruce arrived with a very subdued Bucky in tow. Phil looked up and frowned, wondering what had gone wrong now. "Good morning," Phil said.

"Добрый день," Bucky replied.

"He's stuck like that," Steve said wearily. "Bucky can't understand English. Most of his memory won't activate -- he remembers me and JARVIS but not Bruce, knows about Department X and some basic everyday stuff, but not much else. I feel like I'm playing hide and seek in the dark here. I don't know what to do."

Clint looked at Bucky, looked at Phil, and then slipped out of the room without saying anything.

"As far as I can tell, there's nothing physically wrong with Bucky," Bruce said. He steepled his hands in front of his waist, forefingers tapping together. "He just jolted awake very suddenly, so there was nobody to help except Steve who was already there, and even that didn't do much good this time. I've asked Tony to come up and check the hardware, just in case, because I'm at a loss for further --"

"Yeah, you're completely useless today!" Steve snapped.

"Steve, please be gentle with Bruce. I'm sure he's as frustrated as you and Bucky are," Phil said. Then he patted the empty chair beside himself. Bucky folded himself into it, hunching over the table. Not recognizing people made him wary and withdrawn.

"Что вы хотите есть?" Phil asked him. What do you want to eat? Bucky just shrugged. Phil got up and toasted a frozen waffle for him. Under stress, Bucky did better with measured quantities of food. He ate what he was given without question. At least Steve quit picking on Bruce and made instant oatmeal for both of them.

Phil finished his own breakfast. Then he tried again, prompting Bucky with a simple choice, as there were two kinds of breakfast biscuit in the freezer. "Хотите колбасы или бекона?" Do you want sausage or bacon?

"Бекон," said Bucky without looking up from his plate.

"I'll get it," Bruce said. He heated up a bacon biscuit and brought it to Bucky. Then he turned to Steve. "We've talked about this kind of thing before. You knew there would be good days and bad days --"

Steve started to reply, then clenched his jaw and turned away.

"Bruce, I don't think Steve feels like talking about that right now," Phil said. "Let's just focus on Bucky."

"Okay," Bruce said, clearly not wanting to start a fight. Steve nodded.

Tony came in, his steps light but his face intent. Grease stains streaked his skin and the ratty tank top he wore. He had the energy scanner tucked into his belt. "JARVIS told me what's up," Tony said as he headed for Bucky. He stopped just outside the range of Russian-sized personal space, then offered his left hand as he'd done before. "Здравствуйте, меня зовут Анатолий." Hello, my name is Anthony.

"Яков," Bucky said, barely above a whisper.

Steve choked off something that probably was not his usual "shucks."

Bucky frowned at Tony's left hand, then reached out with his right. Tony switched hands smoothly to shake in the usual manner. Then he pulled the scanner from his belt in slow motion, making sure that Bucky saw it. A leisurely sweep across Bucky's body made the device chirp. Tony turned the screen where Bucky could see it, murmuring an explanation in Russian. Bucky gave him a blank look.

"I'm not picking up any changes in Bucky's equipment," Tony said to Phil.

"Are you sure?" Phil said. "You needed a lot closer look the first time."

"I'm pretty sure," Tony said. His eyes narrowed. "I'm also completely sure that Bucky's in no state to give informed consent for anything more." His tone added, and that's a line I will not cross.

Bucky's left hand came up, tentatively reaching for Tony. With a gentle smile, Tony grasped Bucky's fingers and then stroked up the arm, feeling for the secondary power source. Next Tony tugged at Bucky's collar to peek at the shoulder underneath. He leaned forward to look at the back side.

"Вы пахнете подобно дому," Bucky said. You smell like home.

Tony straightened up. The look that crossed his face was so complex that even Phil couldn't sort it all out -- an eerie blend of hope and fear and something else -- eventually settling into determination. "I've got an idea," Tony said to Phil. Then he turned back to Bucky. "Вы пойдёте со мной?" Will you come with me?

Bucky nodded. He let Tony lead him toward the door.

Bruce stayed put. "Call me if you need me," he said.

"We will," Phil said. He couldn't blame Bruce for not wanting to be around Steve right now. Steve was already tailing Tony and Bucky. Phil followed them.

Tony went down to the garage level. "JARVIS, leave the overhead lights off, downtime lighting only," he said. Base lights kept the place from total darkness but it still wasn't even half-lit. The arc reactor made a fuzzy circle of blue under Tony's tank top.

Tony walked unerringly through the workshop area, guiding Bucky with an arm around his waist, back to what looked like a closet door. "You two can wait there," he said to Phil and Steve, free hand pointing at a bench seat. They sat. "You stay where I put you. If anything goes wrong, I'll bring Bucky out myself." Then Tony dug in his pocket for an actual key, which he used to unlock the door.